Skip to content

Response to Review no. 961

Undoubtedly, a respectable German professorial dissertation can be likened to ‘a brick’. My own also seems much better suited as an missile for a fighter jet than as light reading material. I am therefore ever so grateful to Theo Riches for taking upon himself the arduous task of summing up this book, so difficult to digest, for an Anglophone readership. His summary sets out with precision those aspects of my work that are important to me.

Riches’s criticism is entirely justified: I am unable to demonstrate that in a specific situation an Actor X, based on Knowledge Y, acted in a Manner Z – although, perhaps that would mean removing too much agency from historical actors. With regard to this question, I tend to be an optimist: I do not wish to believe that we are all mere mechanisms of discourses and routines, or that a certain knowledge has ever determined the action of a human being. However, I am enough of a pessimist to regard the impact of categories and analytical models on our actions as high. Therefore, I am also convinced that language frames political action. He who speaks of the ‘War on Terror’ incites greater action than he who speaks of ‘prosecution of criminals’. This does not by any stretch imply, though, that a human being in a specific situation will therefore have to act in certain manner; human beings are free. However, it does indeed mean that the very same manner of acting in the same situation depending on a basis of knowledge will occur at different cost and accrue different benefits. Counterfactual arguments are hard to make. But, would political history of the 830s really have been exactly the same, if ministerium, negligentia, utilias, the responsibility of the Bishop before God for all the souls entrusted to him, etc., if all this had not been structured by the political language of its time? The actors would have to have at least accounted for, justified and explained their actions during conflicts in a different way than they have done in the scripts that were passed on.

Another word to Notker Balbulus: my argument here appears to be somewhat more complex than presented by Theo Riches. I am assuming a geographical differentiation: the Parisian Model is at first widespread in the clerical provinces of Sens and Reims, and, then, also in Lotharingia; I have not been able to find evidence though that it was east of the river Rhine until the late 9th Century, nor did I find any evidence of it in the south of France. Notker’s ‘Gesta Karoli’ were written in the mid-880s, shortly before in 888 the Synod of Mainz verifiably absorbed this model intensively and thereby resorted directly to the Parisian Synodal text/scripts. Based on this evidence, I argued in my work that many of Notker’s stories about Karls’ dealings with bishops read as a critique of the agenda rooted in the Parisian Model. I specifically suggested a way in which Notker might have gained Western knowledge. With caution, I put forward the idea whether or not the Codex Sangallensis 727 could be regarded as a basis for knowledge transfer between Reims and St. Gallen. The St. Gallen Codex, which previously used to be the Codex of Reims, not only contains Ansegis’s ‘Collectio Capitularium’, but also Benedictus Levita’s collection of Capitularia; it therewith contains a script in which the Parisian Model could be found in an abridged version. Furthermore, I pointed out a series of concrete parallels between Notker’s stories about bishops on one hand, and on the other hand what was set out in Sangallensis 727. It is a fact that Notker was interested in legal questions, worked as a librarian and had unlimited access to scripts of his cloister. Nonetheless it is arguable, whether or not the parallels between Sangellensis 727 and ‘Gesta Karoli’ suffice to make a reference to both scripts plausible. I sincerely hope that I have not offered plain conspiracy theory which considers silence as particularly telling. On the contrary, where – as in the East c. 880 or in the South –little or no traces of the Parisian Model were to be found, this Model was therefore undoubtedly there also not virulent.

However, the above is just a detailed reply. Theo Riches’s review is fair, precise and intelligent. It offers a far better summary than the one on the last page of my ‘brick’.

[Translated from the German by Dr Kerstin Lehr, Institute of Historical Research].